DES MOINES, Iowa -- In a major endorsement pickup for Ted Cruz, U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the seven-term, social-conservative congressman and longtime immigration critic, threw his support behind the senator's presidential run on Monday — just over two months from the Iowa caucuses.
"I believe that Ted Cruz is the candidate who is the answer to my prayers — a candidate God will use to restore the soul of America," King said at the announcement in a Des Moines conference room.
King's endorsement comes as Cruz faces scrutiny from Republican rivals accusing Cruz of waffling on immigration reform. Marco Rubio last week publicly questioned Cruz's backing of two measures in 2013 which would have allowed a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants and significantly increased the number of foreign worker visas.
Well-known as an immigration hardliner, King said he hopes his endorsement "adds clarity" to Cruz's strong conservative immigration positions and pushes back against those "blurring" his record. He said Cruz's introduction of those amendments were intended to "expose the motives" of the Senate-passed immigration bill in 2013 and show the process was "cooked."
When asked by a reporter why he didn't endorse Ben Carson, the current frontrunner among Iowan evangelical voters, King said, "The zone of Washington, D.C., is not an area that he is familiar with. So that gives me pause. You need to know what's going on in that organism to do something about it."
The endorsement could also help in the jockeying between Cruz and fellow Rubio in the state as both contend for Iowa Republicans currently supporting Donald Trump or Carson. King acknowledged he discussed the timing of the endorsement with the Cruz campaign.
"These kind of boosts, these kind of endorsements can carry on momentum," King said when asked about the timing. "If I were to look at it on the calendar, I think it came at the right time."
Craig Robinson, a editor of the conservative online outlet The Iowa Republican, said the endorsement will help Cruz make the pitch to social conservatives looking to coalesce around a candidate among the crowded field.
"It definitely underscores the talking point the Cruz campaign wants to build that people are rallying around his campaign, that he's the viable social conservative in the race," Robinson said.
This is Cruz's second big endorsement in the state. In August, he received the backing of conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace. Another influential endorsement that could potentially fall to Cruz would come from The Family Leader, a prominent social-conservative group based in the state. The organization is holding a forum for the Republican candidates on Friday.
Two weeks ago, Cruz partook in King's annual pheasant hunt in northwest Iowa.
"We have been really in the foxholes over and over again," Cruz said after the hunt. "Leading the fight together against amnesty. Leading the fight together against Obamacare. Steve is someone who — he is principled and he's fearless. And both of those are rare qualities in Congress, sadly far too rare."
On Monday morning, Cruz hosted a town hall in South Carolina. His state director, Bryan English, attended King's announcement.
"In Iowa it's hard to imagine too many folks that could have a bigger impact on what we're working on than Steve king," English said.
An early indicator of where King would throw his support came this summer when the congressman's son, Jeff King, took a position with the pro-Cruz super PAC Keep the Promise in Iowa.
King did not endorse in 2012 and backed Fred Thompson in 2008.
The congressman has a history of perceived inflammatory remarks in the immigration debate. In the summer of 2013, the congressman caused a stir when he suggested that for every immigrant "who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."